Facilitate Serendipitous Discovery

The other day I was in a feature design meeting for one of the new reports in the upcoming 3.0 release of Logos Bible Software, the Bible Word Study report. In attendance were a couple of Logos software developers, a few book designers and information architects, and Bob Pritchett, the president and co-founder of the company. We were going through the Grammatical Relationships section of that report line by line and commenting on the display, the information, the what-have-you.

At one point, I asked a dumb question (as I often do). “Bob,” I asked, “what is this report supposed to do? In a general sense, I mean.” I was getting at the Big Picture issues: Are we trying to find the Single Right Answer to every exegetical question? Are we just listing a bunch of unconnected information? Is this report teaching grammar? Should it?

Bob leaned back and said, “This report is supposed to do what all of our reports do: Facilitate serendipitous discovery.”


Everyone in the room nodded, and with that principle as our guiding star we finished the rest of the meeting pretty quickly. Does it facilitate serendipitous discovery? Put it in. Does it do less than that? Leave it out. Does it have to do more than that? No. Just F-S-D.

Of course, this wasn’t exactly news to the people sitting in the room. We’ve been designing and programming reports for a long time, and we all have a pretty good feel for what makes a good report. On the other hand, it’s always good to be reminded of your core design principles, and besides, I’ve never heard it formulated quite that way: Facilitate Serendipitous Discovery. As my grandmother would say, that’s a lot of ten-dollar words. (About $30 worth, I reckon.)

Okay, so it’s a great slogan, but what does it mean?

Facilitate means to “help to bring about,” that is make something easier than it otherwise would be. That’s exactly what Libronix DLS reports do: They draw together information from dozens of disparate sources and arrange that information in a convenient format. They help to make whatever task it is that the report addresses simpler to accomplish — be it the Passage Guide (studying a particular passage of the Bible), the Exegetical Guide (studying all the individual words in a passage), or in 3.0, the Bible Word Study Guide (studying a particular word in all its contexts).

Serendipitous means “of or pertaining to serendipity,” which in turn means something like a happy coincidence. Or, in the words of Merriam-Webster, “the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” The point is that when you run a Libronix DLS report, you will probably find some piece of information from your library that you didn’t even know to look for (much less how or where) — but there it is.

Discovery? Well, that’s why anyone has a library in the first place: to find information.

Facilitate Serendipitous Discovery. Help people find information they didn’t even know they were looking for. Exactly. That’s the sort of thing I want to see on a T-shirt. On bumper stickers. Embroidered on a pillow. I want to change my business cards.
Hello, I’m Eli. I’ll be your Serendipitous Discovery Facilitator this evening …

Comments

  1. Bobby Terhune says:

    Eli,
    That was one of the best posts I’ve read lately! I’m amazed at what Logos helps me to discover, things I wasn’t even looking for.
    Thanks
    Bobby T

  2. Rev. Jeffery Ferrell says:

    Eli,
    Send me the t-shirt in 3XL, I am blessed to know that those who develop this tremendous software are able to keep the user in mind. I cannot articulate (hope I spelled that correctly) how valuable Logos Bible software has been to me in my personal bible study time let alone in preparing sermons. Keep on keepin on!

  3. Dave Webster says:

    Another 3xl guy….nice….now if they would just get some cool t-shirts rather than the junk from cafepress.com, all their stuff is junk… Maybe a cool shirt like the sweet background that somebody actually took time to make up…..
    hmmmm ok this post may be a bit off track….

  4. Gregory Sarwinski says:

    I was just looking at my pre-pub orders when I noticed the delivery method on my t-shirt. It says “other.” No, no, no! I want my t-shirt downloaded now! (Now, wouldn’t that be serendipitous if posible.)

  5. Peyton Manning says:

    Describing bibilical research as “serendipitous” is an even worse oxymoron than describing acts of kindness as “random”. The process of gathering related materials as an investigative technique is entirely purposeful and predictablely beneficial or no one would do it. That’s the way it has been done for millenia. All your software does is to make this human process poteneially more efficient. Furthermore, and more importantly, the providential guidance of the Holy Spirit supercedes any so-called “coincidental” benefits of human research. I guarantee that I have never said and will never say “Praise be to Logos software” or “Praise be to FSD”. Nor will I ever wear your T-shirt. Now, excuse me while I go thumb through my Liddell & Scott. Get over yourselves, boys!

  6. Peyton, we don’t want you saying “praise be to Logos” either. The serendipity we’re talking about is a happy by-product of the research process. It has to do with stumbling upon some insight or illustration you did not set out to find or discovering a relevant passage in one of your books that you did not know was there.
    How many of us are blessed with a photographic memory and the time to read every page of every book on our shelves? Not I. Like all good and useful technology, Logos Bible Software is an extension of my own abilities. It does not replace the role of the Holy Spirit but it can certainly be used by the Holy Spirit as much as that much older technology we call the book.
    The March/April issue of Books and Culture contains an insightful article that discusses the role of serendipity in research. The author, Dr. Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College, observes that serendipity forces us to recognize our own limitations and he encourages the reader to cultivate “accidental sagacity” and make it part of the research process: http://www.christianitytoday.com/books/features/rumorsofglory/070402.html

  7. Peyton Manning says:

    The heading under the hotlink bookmark “Endorsements” on the “Sermon File Addin” page is: “Praise for Sermon File Addin.” Mr. Foster may not want us singing the praises of the SFA, but apparently Logos Software does. I am well aware of the nuances of the English word “praise.” It is precisely because of that awareness that I find it objectionable to talk about praising a “tool” that helps one gain biblical insights, rather than praising the Author of the Book, who is the only One who actually grants those insights. At best this is robbing Peter to pay Paul. At worst it is robbing God of his due praise and instead praising a man-made tool (an idol).
    Appealing to someone who possesses a Ph.D. to merely restate an argument for serendipity adds absolutely nothing to the discussion. The cogent philosophical point is that serendipity relies on coincidence, which is mere happenstance. I know of no credible orthodox Christian theology of hermeneutics that attributes biblical insight to coincidence. No one who believes that God is sovereign, providential and purposeful could possibly believe such fatalistic nonsense as “serendipity” to explain the gaining of biblical insights by investigating related material. It is an entirely naturalistic concept that allows no place for the hand of God. As applied to biblical research, it lowers the activity to mere human endeavor, “enhanced” by mere chance for its outcomes.
    In my opinion, those who embrace the “FSD” concept of a “man-made-tool enhanced” serendipity as applied to biblical research are foolishly self-deluded, puffed up and in danger of offending the only One who grants biblical insight. Even the human element, while purposeful, necessary and even commendable, is not only not worthy of praise, but by itself will yield absolutely nothing of spiritual insight. How much less the tools we use!